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Once upon a time in a kingdom by the sea there lived a young woman as fair as the moon and as warm as the sun. The people of her village were poor but honest folk, in that quaint poor but honest way that only fisherfolk and herderfolk can ever seem to manage; entirely different from the poverty or the honesty of city dwellers, and as different as the day from the night as the deception and wealth of the merchants who followed the caravan routes and sailed the salt seas. The woman was called Rose by all who knew her, not because this was her name, but because she had blossomed - as if overnight - into a creature of delicate beauty, quite unlike the fishwives and salt stained girls that lived in her village. She worked just as hard as any of the women and harder than some of the men, preparing her father's catch for market, repairing the fish nets, helping her mother keep the house and manage her many brothers, and helping keep her father's boat in order so that he could go out onto the salt sea and catch the fish; despite this, she grew only more beautiful day by day, and all the boys in the village loved her and feared her for her beauty. It was a cold, lonely existence for a young woman, for no matter how hard she worked and how much she tried, she could not fit in with those poor but honest folk; and because they /were/ honest folk, they could not hide their awe and apprehension from her, and she grew up, not hated, but shunned nonetheless.

Her brothers could see that she was hurting, and though they loved her just as much as any other in the village, they too felt awkward and clumsy next to her grace and beauty; and so it was decided that though it killed them to live without her, she did not belong in such a little fishing village, but should instead live in a palace, surrounded by servants and jewels and riches to rival her beauty. It was decided, under council of night when all the house was sleeping, as such conspiracies so often are, that she must be given to a prince; but what prince could do? The kingdom by the sea had no princes, and only one princess; and while stories of her grace and beauty were also told, far and wide, it was well regarded in that little village that their Rose would easily put her to shame, should the two ever met, and since it was not good to bring shame to royalty unless you happen to have a larger army on your side, it would be best for all involved if they did not bring Rose to the capital city, where she might act as a rival to the princess. After all, as their father had often warned them, beauty saw like beauty as competition, and there could only be one queen in the hive.

So the brothers decided amongst themselves that they would have to seek a worthy husband for their sister in the wide world around them. One of them would have to stay with their father, mother, and sister; one of them was too young to venture out into the world alone, for it was a dangerous place in those days (as in many ways it still is), and so he would have to stay home and tend the nets with the women, as much as this displeased him (and his brothers had to gag him to keep him from voicing his displeasure loudly and long, and possibly waking the rest of the household with the strength of his ire). This left five of them to venture out into the world, one to go north and one to go south, one to go east and one to go west, and the last brother to seek what worthiness he could find in the world beyond the veil, across the borders between shadow and light where the wild things play.

The brother who went to the north found only cold and frost at first, for the northern lands are frozen much of the year and snow covers the ground even at high summer. But if the land is cold, the people are not; when he would have frozen, they took him in and kept him warm, and when he told them of his quest and of his sister's beauty, they took him to where their prince lived in an icy palace. The prince was a man of frost and ice, whose skin was as pale as the newfallen snow and whose eyes were as blue as frozen rivers; when he heard of the Rose's beauty, though, he thawed just a touch, and warmth and kindness showed in his eyes. He agreed to come with the brother back to the kingdom by the sea, there to meet the Rose.

The brother who went to the south had to take a caravan across the endless sands of the southern desert, far beyond the borders of the kingdom by the sea. He had many adventures with the caravaneers, and even fell in love himself, but the caravan was attacked by bandits and all were slain - save the brother, who was left for dead in the burning sands. He was rescued by servants of the djinn of that place, who took him to their prince; a man of flame and heat, whose eyes flashed with quick anger and lips smiled with quick humor, a prince who was as restless as flame and just as powerful. When the brother, restored to health, told this prince of the Rose, his quick anger soothed, and his fickle attention stilled. He, too, agreed to come with the brother back to the kingdom by the sea, there to meet the Rose.

The third brother went to the east, and he too had to take a caravan to get there; through mountains and forests, along the great Spice Road that wended halfway around the world, to the kingdoms of jade and diamond. Here the people dressed in long flowing robes of strange colors, and the food was flavored with strange spices, and they spoke in music and made art of battle. They were a strange people, and their leader was as strange; he was golden as a statue, and seemed as cold and lifeless as he sat on his jade throne and looked down at the brother who had come to plead for the Rose. But when he heard the third brother's tale, his mask crumbled and he agreed to come to the kingdom by the sea, there to meet the Rose.

The fourth brother took ship to the west, and the seas were terrible with storms and pirates and great serpents that came up from the deep and tried to drink the ship down to the deeps. But somehow they managed to survive all of these perils, until the ship came at last to an island far across the sea, where mermaids sang on the rocky shore to entice the sailors to their doom. The ship was lost against the reefs, and many were the souls that drowned, but the brother was washed up safe upon the beach and taken to the palace of the prince, a man of coral and pearl, whose eyes shown sea green and whose hair was the color of kelp. This prince, like the others, was interested in the tale of the Rose, and agreed to take the brother back to the kingdom by the sea, there to meet the girl who had won his heart - without ever having seen her.

As for the fifth brother, he went to the quiet place in the woods in the hills in a cave where the setting sun never touched, and there he sat in the dark and the quiet and focused on the barrier between the worlds. While his elder brothers sailed and caravanned, and had many adventures, he sat in the cave and focused, slowly growing gaunter and more withered as he stared through the veil between the worlds, reaching out for something that was never quite there. And then one day, as his brothers reached their princes of the north and south and east and west, he found that shining thing he had searched for; and from between the veil of worlds stepped a prince of midnight and sable, whose skin was the blue black of a moonless night and whose eyes were the silver of the shining stars, whose hair was the shimmering radiance of the galaxy colors, burning bright in a cold winter night. He had sensed the brother searching for him, and curious had looked closer; and fallen in love with the vision of the Rose, a princess without a kingdom, the flower growing amongst the weeds.

And so the brothers returned home, carried by djinn and winged horse, by dragon and gryphon, and walking down the mountainside with shadow trailing behind. Their family was overjoyed to see them again, for years had passed in their absence, and their father was ill and their youngest brother was of an age now where he, too, could have joined their quest - if only they had left a direction for him to search. Their eldest brother had started a family of his own, but still watched over their delicate Rose, who had - if it were possible - grown only more beautiful in their absence, and now shone like the sun and and burned like the stars, and none of the villagers could look upon her without weeping, and who was so desperately lonesome in return that she felt like weeping herself.

And all of the princes looked upon her, and loved her, and promised her their kingdoms - if only she would be theirs. The prince of the north offered her diamonds, and the prince of the south rubies; the prince of the east offered gold and jade, sacks of tea and pouches of precious saffron and coriander. The prince of the west offered sapphires and coral, pearls and amber; he had the treasure of all the world to offer, for every nation of every land sailed ships, and all those ships were his, if he so willed it, and all the precious cargoes that grew therein.

And the prince who came from the worlds between merely smiled, and told her that he offered but himself - and all eternity. For if she came with him through the veil, she could never return to this world - but all the others, across the ten billion billion billion dimensions, and beyond, would all lie at her feet, for her to choose from.

And that is the prince she chose; and if she lived happily ever after, we may only hope, for in a heartbeat they had stepped from our world, and they were gone beyond the curtain between the worlds, past where mortal men can see, and into infinity. And the four princes, spurned, wept bitter tears and went back to their kingdoms, where they ruled long and well but never happily, for the memory of the woman called Rose was always with them, and they longed for her.

And her family could only hope that she was happy, and settled down into their lives, and lived them as long and well as they could; and if the sixth brother was satisfied with the prince he had brought home, he never said, but went and sat in that cave in the mountains, and hoped to see his sister one day again.

And that was the tale of the Rose who bloomed in the night.

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